Russian doctors develop early detection tests for Parkinson's disease

The main challenge for the medical profession is to diagnose the disease at an early stage. Source: Photoxpress

The main challenge for the medical profession is to diagnose the disease at an early stage. Source: Photoxpress

Teams from Moscow and Kazan are designing chips and software to carry out immune system and gene tests that make it possible to diagnose Parkinson's disease five to seven years before its symptoms appear. This would be a cheaper alternative to positron emission tomography.

Russian doctors have developed tests that make it possible to detect Parkinson's disease several years before its first symptoms become visible.

Parkinson's disease usually afflicts people over 60, although in recent years its symptoms have been reported by people aged 30-40. In Russia, about 2 percent of the population in the 60+ age group are affected by this condition.

The main challenge for the medical profession is to diagnose the disease at an early stage since it first takes root in the body 20-30 years before the first symptoms are visible. By the time a patient seeks medical help, it is no longer possible to find a drug that can prevent the disease from developing any further.

One of the means of diagnosis that doctors use is positron emission tomography (PET). However, conducting a mass screening program involving the use of PET is impossible due to its extremely high costs. So doctors in Russia and abroad are looking at how to make Parkinson's disease diagnostics at earlier stages less expensive.

Genetics play a part in the disease

One of the possible solutions has been found at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where eight years ago researchers from 25 institutes began to study mechanisms of how neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's, develop. They designed a series of tests that make it possible to diagnose this condition several years before its specific symptoms arise.

To carry out further work in this area, the head of research at the "Brain: Fundamental and Applied Problems" program, academician Mikhail Ugryumov registered a limited liability company called Centre for Early Diagnosis of Neurodegenerative Diseases (NDZ). The centre's commercial product is called DiaPark. Its chips carry out immune system and gene tests that make it possible to diagnose Parkinson's disease five to seven years before its symptoms appear.

Medics know that the first symptoms of the death of neurons in the brain can take one by complete surprise. For instance, as the first sign, patients may start losing the sense of smell or having stomach problems. Scientists led by Ugryumov have established that these processes are accompanied by changes in the composition of plasma and other serious transformations. At the same time, according to Ugryumov, none of the factors can be considered definitive, that is why DiaPark takes account of the person's genetic predisposition for the disease as well as changes in the concentration of various substances in the blood and their deviations from the norm.

Towards a mass screening programme

At the moment the new system "lives" between Moscow and Kazan. In Tatarstan, a team of researchers headed by Razina Nigmatullina, a professor at the Kazan State Medical University, is working with patients. Whereas in Moscow, a team led by Mikhail Ugryumov are working to identify the disease's markers in blood samples and are analyzing electrophysiological parameters. The company's offerings for the market are immune system and gene chips and data analysis software.

"The system of diagnosis will not require any special equipment. The chips and the software can be used on the basis of technologies which doctors already use in ordinary outpatient clinics. Which means that we shall be able to start mass screening programs among the population and to identify Parkinson's disease at its early stages," says Ugryumov.

According to Razina Nigmatullina, in state-run hospitals DiaPark tests will be run on all people over the age of 35. Private clinics will start testing those who have Parkinson's disease in the family.

Starting from 2016, Ugryumov and his team plan to conduct pre-clinical trials and to complete the certification process. In 2017 DiaPark will start clinical trials in Russia and in 2018 in the US.

First published in Russian by RBC Daily.

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